It seems that we’ve arrived at some strange, mythical new tipping point for the role of artificial intelligence in music. In a new BBC interview, Paul McCartney says that AI technology has been used to “extricate” the voice of John Lennon from an old demo and that this will enable the release of one last Beatles song, which will apparently be out this year.
In that interview, McCartney, speaking about a trove of Beatles photos that’s about to become a new book and photo exhibit, answered a question about “efforts that have been made — through technology, through artificial intelligence — to recreate the early Beatles”:
Well, it’s a very interesting thing. It’s something we’re all tackling at the moment, trying to deal with what’s it mean? I don’t hear that much because I’m not on the internet that much, but people will say to me, oh yeah, there’s a track where John’s singing one of my songs, and it isn’t. It’s just AI. So all of that is kind of scary but exciting because it’s the future.
And we were able to use that kind of thing when Peter Jackson did the film Get Back, where it was us making the Let It Be album. He was able to extricate John’s voice from a rumpy little bit of cassette that had John’s voice and a piano. He could separate them with AI, and he could tell the machine, “That’s a voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar.” And he did that, so it has great uses.
So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record, it was a demo that John had, that we worked on. We just finished it up. It’ll be released this year. We were able to take John’s voice and get it pure, through this AI, so then we could mix the record as you would normally do.
Paul McCartney didn’t say which song would become this final Beatles record, but the BBC theorizes that it’s “Now And Then,” a demo that Lennon recorded in 1978. In 1995 and 1996, when the surviving Beatles were putting together their Anthology collection, they added their own voices and instrumentation to Lennon’s demos of “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love,” which now stand as the last Beatles records. “Now And Then” was reportedly considered for that release.
The surviving Beatles tried to work on “Now And Then” for an afternoon, but they ultimately decided that the sound quality of Lennon’s demo wasn’t good enough. Maybe they’ve got leftover George Harrison audio from those sessions, too.
In any case, this doesn’t seem like it’ll be a case of Lennon and Harrison’s voices being automatically generated, made to sing along with any random thing. Instead, it’ll just be the surviving Beatles using AI as an editing tool, to clear up the audio from old recordings. Still, it’s hard to imagine that this won’t have some uncanny-valley effect. You can listen to the full McCartney interview here.